Yellowstone 3 of 3: The Mighty River, Tower Junction to Yellowstone Lake
National Park: Yellowstone
The final post in this series focuses on the Yellowstone River’s dramatic impact on the Park. With enough geologic time, water has inevitably conquered rock and forges an entirely unique landscape and ecosystem.
Heading south from Tower Junction, you will first encounter Tower Falls. After taking a short walk from the parking lot, you get an excellent view of Tower Creek plunging 13 stories, pummeling the ever-eroding rock beneath it. As impressive as it is, the Falls, which are fed by a tributary of the Yellowstone River, is just a preview of the wonders that lie ahead.
Next, the Park’s main road takes you to Canyon Village. Centrally located, the area can be reasonably accessed from most reaches of the Park and provides visitors with a full complement of amenities, including showers, a small grocery store and a few basic restaurants.
Just a few miles away, one of our country’s most powerful waterfalls digs a thousand foot trench through the Earth. Three points of entry give you unique views of the area’s three main features: Upper Yellowstone Falls, Lower Yellowstone Falls and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. It is easy to spend a day hiking the area’s trails, enjoying beautiful vistas and even looking over the precipice of the both the Lower and Upper Falls. While all are short jaunts from the parking lot, some can be deceivingly strenuous with formidable elevation changes. However, a number of trails are wheelchair accessible, flat and easy. Therefore, the Canyon Area can be fulfilling for any visitor. It always serves as an excellent opportunity to sit in silence and become humbled by the powerful walls of water surrounding you, which have been at work on the landscape for longer than you can fathom.
Still farther south, more thermal features demand to be seen. Bison meander through rising steam while mudpots boil and hiss. One of Yellowstone’s most unique features, Dragon’s Mouth Spring, is simply enchanting. Water vapor billows from the hidden depths of a rock cave while waves of water lap into an adjoining murky pool. After hearing its groans and hisses firsthand, it’s easy to see how it was named.
Completing the Park loop takes you to Yellowstone Lake, a body of water so massive that you could fool yourself into thinking you’re on a sea’s sandy shores. In truth, the Lake lies nearly 8,000 feet above sea level and is guarded by three feet of ice for half the year. While driving, you can see steam rising from its banks, a final reminder of the Park’s intricate relationship with the magma brewing beneath its surface. And indeed, the Lake’s immensity is just another testament to Yellowstone’s grandiosity.
Yellowstone must truly be experienced in person. Nothing matches the opportunity to see its boiling cauldrons, hear a wolf howl or feel like one of the drops of water beginning its descent into Yellowstone’s deepest canyon. Yellowstone is our Nation’s first national park and arguably its most breathtaking. It is the result of diverse natural forces and the ecosystems it contains are almost inexplicably pristine. If it’s the first park you visit, it will overwhelm you with the wildness of America’s West and inspire you to see more of America’s wonders. But it also functions excellently as a park to build up to; once you think you’ve seen all the amazing landscapes our country has to offer, journey to Yellowstone and find a renewed passion for the outdoors. Either way, every American must see Yellowstone and will undoubtedly be glad for it.